USB memory sticks in a bottle
Human rights activists are collecting USB memory sticks so that they can send foreign media and books to North Koreans to combat censorship iStock

Have any spare USB memory sticks lying around? Human rights campaigners want them as part of a new movement to beat the foreign media blackout in North Korea and propaganda about the West being spewed by Kim Jong-un's hermit regime.

It might seem like a very small thing to do, but the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and Silicon Valley non-profit organisation Forum 280 have launched the Flash Drives for Freedom campaign, seeking as many working USB memory sticks as possible.

The idea is to donate these memory sticks to North Korean refugee-led organisations, who will fill the drives with Western TV shows and films in order to dispel the lies and illusions the regime tells its people – such as claims that the West and South Korea are dangerous, hostile, poor and vastly inferior to North Korea.

"You can be involved just by shipping a USB drive to Palo Alto, and we'll help to get it sent to North Korea. This is a viable technology that works there, that North Koreans have decided is a way to reach people," HRF's chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein told Wired. "Each one has the potential to literally change someone's life."

Although not many people in North Korea have PCs and the media and internet is censored, many people now have USB-compatible video players and smartphones, so their minds can be potentially opened by watching content and reading books and explainers from the world outside.

Everybody loves Friends

Friends TV sitcom
Even North Korean defectors love the show Friends Warner Bros TV

At the moment, organisations made up of North Koreans who have escaped to South Korea, like Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), North Korean Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS) and the North Korean Strategy Center (NKSC), collectively smuggle less than 10,000 USB memory sticks and SD cards into North Korea each year, and they have to purchase the devices at retail prices on the internet.

If people could donate the USB memory sticks, these organisations could reach more people and expand their work into sending real information and culture back to their families, friends and neighbours, as the cost of bribes and travel to North Korea, as well as focus groups with North Korean refugees, gets expensive.

Interestingly, American shows like Friends and Desperate Housewives have been found to be very popular.

HRF and Forum 280 plan to launch an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in February and hope that Flash Drives for Freedom will help raise awareness about their cause in the tech industry, and perhaps lead to better ways to disseminate information.